Monday, April 20, 2009
The hijacked, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 piloted by Leul Abate crashed landed in the Indian Ocean near Comoros. 125 passengers and crews died, but Abate survived.
Captain Leul Abate (born 1954) was a pilot with Ethiopian Airlines.
During his career, the airliner that he piloted was hijacked 3 times.
And each time, he survived.
Therefore, he is the luckiest and unluckiest pilot in the world.
The most high profile case happened on November 23, 1996. Abate, was the pilot of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961, which was hijacked, fifteen minutes out from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, by three Ethiopians seeking political asylum.
The plane crashed in the Indian Ocean near Comoros after running out of fuel, killing 125 of the 175 passengers and crew on board.
Leul observed that, "[The hijackers] knew they wouldn't make it to Australia - they just wanted us to crash. They should be dead. The way they were talking they didn't want to live."
Four hours later, the plane was nearly out of fuel as it approached the Comoros islands. Leul's co-pilot, Yonas Mekuria, had been attacked with an axe.
The communications system in the airplane had been disabled. The hijackers ignored his plea to land at the Comoros's Prince Said Ibrahim International Airport, and instead, one of them, drinking a bottle of whiskey, decided to fly the plane himself.
When the plane ran out of fuel, both engines failed. Leul and Yonas, bleeding and bruised, fought with the hijackers.
Leul used a ram air turbine to preserve the aircraft's most essential functions, but in this mode some hydraulic systems—such as the flaps—were inoperative. This forced Leul to land at more than 175 knots (about 200 miles per hour or 320 kilometers per hour).
Still fighting with the hijackers, Abate tried to ditch the aircraft in shallow waters 500 metres off Le Galawa Beach Hotel near Mitsamiouli at the northern end of Grand Comoro island, however, at the last moment, one of the hijackers grabbed the controls.
The left engine and wingtip struck the water first, causing the aircraft to break up. Island residents and tourists, including a group of scuba divers and some French doctors on vacation, came to the aid of crash survivors.
125 of the 175 passengers and crew members, including the three hijackers were killed. Both pilots survived the crash and Leul continues to fly for Ethiopian Airlines.
Leul considers Yonas, the co-pilot, the real hero. Yonas fought the hijackers while he himself was bruised and bleeding, giving time for Leul to land the airplane. "He was a life-saver," Leul said.
Flight 961 was not the first time Leul had experienced a hijacking. On two previous occasions, Leul had been hijacked. On both occasions, he managed to talk the hijackers into stopping their attempt